Don’t discount the South Korean auto makers – Hyundai and Kia are on a roll.
Canadian sales of Hyundai vehicles rose 6.5 per cent in February, compared with the previous year, and its Elantra model was named Canadian Car of The Year by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Kia reported better figures: after 38 straight months of sales growth, it saw its best February ever, with sales up 20 per cent over the previous year. Kia can thank its volume leader, the Sorento compact utility vehicle, for a large part of its growth. Of 4,644 new vehicles sold in February, 970 were Sorentos.
What’s so special about a Sorento? Firstly, the price. You can get the base LX model for only $26,595. And it’s value-packed, even at that price.
It comes with heated front seats, fog lights, air conditioning, power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, and steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls.
Powering the base model is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine with 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. You can add the security of all-wheel-drive for a little more money – $28,495. There are several other trims and options available to spruce up your ride even more.
My tester is a mid-level EX Luxury model with a bigger, more powerful engine – a 3.5-litre V-6 with 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque – and other goodies such as a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, a rear-view camera, a push-button ignition, all-wheel-drive, a heated steering wheel, automatic folding side-view mirrors, a heated and cooled driver’s seat, and an Infinity premium audio system with 10 speakers including a subwoofer. It costs $38,495.
If you need more space for extra kids or their friends, you can opt for three rows of seats that would seat seven, which would raise my tester’s price to $39,695.
But if you don’t need the extra seats, skip them – the third row is tight, even for kids. And it eats up significant space in the cabin and cargo area. If you stick with two rows of seats, you’ll have a large amount of space for five passengers and a huge cargo area with 1,047 litres of room. If you add the third row, cargo space shrinks to 258 litres.
The leather front seats are nicely bolstered and supportive, as are the rear seats. Three people can sit comfortably in the second row; even three adults won’t will lack leg, shoulder or headroom.
There are some hard plastics in the cabin, but it doesn’t make this CUV feel or look cheap. The dash is well laid out with easy-to-find large dials for the HVAC system, all within the driver’s reach.
I also like the little details. For instance, the rear wiper and washer is a button, positioned on the dash, left of the steering wheel. It’s easy to access and engage or disengage, even in the dark. I get frustrated when it’s on a turn-signal stalk because it’s hard to see and to turn on or off in bad weather.
The touch screen is easy to use and well-positioned at eye level. The navigation system is also one of the easiest and quickest I’ve used. It’s intuitive and usually takes only three steps to input your destination and start the route guidance.
Another cool feature is Kia’s all-new UVO infotainment system. Co-developed with Microsoft and based on Windows-embedded automotive software, it’s a hands-free voice-activated way to control the radio, audio, and phone. Once you figure it out, it works, but I still prefer the old-fashioned buttons.
The power from the 3.5-litre V-6 is pleasing. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic that is smooth and accurate. Off the line, the Sorento accelerates effortlessly.
The ride is firm, but comfortable. Despite its size, the Sorento handles like a car, but there is some body lean in corners. It is big so parking in crowded shopping malls or at the gym lot can be tricky. It takes a bit more time and patience to manoeuvre into a tight spot. A rear-back up camera helps.
Fuel economy is also respectable for a vehicle of this size. It averages 11.5 litres/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway. My numbers were actually on par with those figures; I got 11.1 litres/100 km during my test period, which isn’t too bad for an all-wheel-drive vehicle with a curb weight of 1,837 kg.
Also worth noting is Kia’s warranty program: it’s one of the best in the business. Kia offers a five-year/100,000-km powertrain warranty, a five-year/100,000-km comprehensive warranty and an impressive five-year/100,000-km roadside assistance.
So when it comes to CUVs, don’t forget about the South Koreans; the Kia Sorento is well worth a test drive.
2012 Kia Sorento EX Luxury
Type: Five-passenger (or seven-passenger available) compact utility vehicle
Base Price: $38,495; as tested, $40,445
Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 276 hp/248 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/8.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda CR-V